The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Championship Series is going the distance. After a 3-2 loss in Game 5 on the road, the Windsor Spitfires refused to quit and came away with a big win over the Hamilton Bulldogs in Game 6 at home on Monday night. Now, it’s one game to decide everything.
Coming into Game 6, the Spitfires knew this was going to be a test. The Bulldogs were the top-ranked team in Canada for a reason; they could score at will, had the best goals-against totals in the league in the regular season, and came into the series 12-0 in the playoffs. Nobody in the Eastern Conference was able to touch them and they came into each game knowing they had a good chance of winning. The Spitfires were the only team to hand them a defeat and head coach Marc Savard knew that his club could take them the distance. They just needed a chance to prove it.
WFCU Crowd Lifts Spitfires to Game 7
After a tough road loss in Game 5 on Sunday, making the series 3-2, Game 6 was do-or-die for the Spitfires. A near sell-out crowd of 6,378 packed into the WFCU Centre and raised the atmosphere to new heights. Savard’s club took that energy and used it to their advantage.
While shorthanded early in the first, the home side caused chaos around Bulldogs’ goaltender Marco Costantini before veteran Daniel D’Amico beat him for a 1-0 lead. D’Amico also had five points in Games 6 and 7 against the Flint Firebirds in the last round.
The Bulldogs responded, though, scoring late in the first and midway through the second for a 2-1 lead. However, before the buzzer hit, everything changed. A turnover in the visitor’s zone near the end of the second led to D’Amico’s second, making it 2-2. Seconds later, Michael Renwick wired a shot past Costantini and it was suddenly 3-2 Spitfires after 40. The arena was alive.
The Spitfires pressed in the third, adding one from captain Will Cuylle on the power play and a second from veteran Pasquale Zito off an Arber Xhekaj turnover to make it a 5-2 final. Here comes Game 7!
This was the effort the Spitfires needed. Losing a close Game 5 was rough but they were in a similar situation with the Firebirds’ series (down 3-2). Savard said they talked about how to use that experience in this series. He also gave big props to the full house.
“I have to give credit to our fans right from the start,” Savard said.
“That sequence of … trying to score short-handed, they had three opportunities, and for D’Amico to do what he did, the fans blew the roof off this place. Our guys got a ton of energy from it.”
Game 6 Scoring Summary
Spitfires – Daniel D’Amico (10) (short-handed) – 7:27
Bulldogs – Logan Morrison (16) from Avery Hayes – 15:54
Bulldogs – Logan Morrison (17) from Arber Xhekaj – 10:46
Spitfires – Daniel D’Amico (11) from Jacob Maillet and Oliver Peer – 18:44
Spitfires – Michael Renwick (5) from Will Cuylle and Wyatt Johnston – 19:31
Spitfires – Will Cuylle (15) from Wyatt Johnston and Matthew Maggio (power play) – 0:46
Spitfires – Pasquale Zito (2) unassisted – 16:59
One Game, Saint John on the Line
It all comes down to this – Game 7 of the OHL Championship on Wednesday night at the FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton. The winner gets a ticket to the 2022 Memorial Cup in Saint John, NB (June 20 – 29), while the loser watches on TV. If you’re a hockey fan, it doesn’t get much better.
The Bulldogs went 27-4-1-2 at home during the regular season and are 8-1 there in the playoffs. With a capacity of nearly 10,000, the fans play a role in the outcome. Head coach Jay McKee said having the local support is going to make it that much better.
“It’s a very big building so the more fans we get, the better,” he said.
“Our players certainly feed off the vibe and energy in the arena. If you don’t want to come out for the OHL Final, where it’s a one-game, winner-take-all, they’ll never come out. I expect it to be a good rocking barn.”
For the Spitfires, though, Game 7 isn’t a new situation. They’ve done this before and understand what’s needed to advance. While they’ll be in hostile territory this time, Savard’s club will prepare and leave it all on the ice.
“We’ve got a big job ahead and we know that,” he said.
“We’re going to get out of here (Tuesday), have a nice meal, get some rest, have a nice morning skate on Wednesday, and give them the best we’ve got.”
This will come down to who makes the fewest mistakes and who wants it more. It’s literally the end of the OHL playoff road; you can’t hold anything back. One game for everything and a trip out East? This is what junior hockey is all about. Puck drop on Wednesday is 7:00 p.m.
A nearly life-long resident of Windsor, ON, I graduated from St. Clair College (Journalism) and University of Windsor (Communications) and have attended Windsor Spitfires’ (and OHL) games for 30-years. My areas include multimedia journalism and photography.